So, despite my worst fears, Bristol City managed to snatch a 0-0 draw at St James’ Park last Saturday. I see that as a very creditable result, as many of the media reports have also suggested.
Of course, the result came, thanks in no small part to goalkeeper Dean Gerken. The former Colchester man was not even expected to play in the game due to lingering difficulties after that all-so-lingering ‘virus’ which has ravaged the squad since their pre-season visit to Portugal. However, with Adriano Basso injuring himself in the run-up to the game, Gerken was called upon, and he more than answered that goal with a series of point-saving saves.
Defender Jamie McCombe has suggested that the team relished the match against better opposition, and want more – in the form of Premier League football.
As a fan it is good to see Premier League ambition continue to rear its head among the Ashton Gate squad, but the fact that, by all accounts, we pretty much held on for dear life on the weekend, suggests we have a little way to go year before making that dream a reality.
Obviously that would, hopefully, come in the form of shrewd signings if we do get up into the top flight for the first time since the 1970s. While holding on on Saturday, the result does show that we can hang with the upper echelon of the Coca Cola Championship. Newcastle are a bit of an exception, as they really never should have been relegated, and probably still have a squad superior to teams such as Hull, who stayed up at the Toon’s expense.
With all of that established, what is clear is that Bristol City have a chance. If Burnley and Hull can get promoted, then so can a team from one of the tenth largest cities in the whole of the United Kingdom. But, City cannot reach that height without pressing on from this draw. The side has shown some signs of brilliance – notably against Blackpool at home the other week, and in Nicky Maynard especially, who is starting to pay back some of the £2.5 million the Robins paid for him. Gary Johnson needs to harness the confidence garnered from these last two games and go on to follow, as much as possible, the old adage of ‘win at home and draw away from home.’
The problem last season was that City seemed to be following the adage of ‘score first and let in an equaliser late on’ in numerous home games. This much change.
Gary Johnson says that he assesses the side’s performance after each block of ten games. Eleven games into the 09/10 season, and he must be happy – eighth in the table, stuck outside of the play-off places only by goal difference. To press on, he must rally his side to beat opposition such as Peterborough, Plymouth and Sheffield Wednesday at home, and perhaps even look to take the scalp of Mark Robins’ Barnsley on the road. But, even more importantly, the team must seek good results against the more quality teams such as Sheffield United, who admittedly, have the capability of beating City, even at Ashton Gate. Away games against the likes of West Brom and Nottingham Forest will also be tough. But if we can draw against Newcastle, then hopefully we should be able to do the same against them.
All sounds easy enough? Of course, it sounds so simple on paper (or should that be on screen?!), so I, and Gary Johnson will take another serious look after the next 10 games.